Encourage One Another

Love your neighbor…
From Matthew 22:39

I ran into a former colleague who recently retired. Like I had, she spent her entire teaching career with kids who had far more to worry about than which box of cereal to choose for breakfast. We were both reading teachers whose students came to us from other classrooms. Because we had no homerooms, we monitored the outdoors and school entrances at the open and close of every school day. It was during these morning patrols that we encountered some reluctant grade-school students who expected the worst from every new day in their classrooms.

As my friend and I reminisced, we agreed that our former students had a variety of valid reasons for their daily trepidation. The good news is that they responded to our frequent interactions with surprising openness. My friend and I learned a good deal about these children as we coaxed them to the door. They shared things with us one-to-one which their classroom teachers would never know. We often shared advice with them which some eventually heeded enough to improve their days. We also put in a good word for these little lost souls whenever the opportunity arose. My friend and I also agreed that the best news in the world came in a teacher’s remark that one of our before-school friends was making meaningful progress or had actually enjoyed a good day.

From time to time we all encounter people who are reluctant to embrace the new day. Perhaps our willingness to listen or a word of encouragement will nudge them on their way. If they’re anything like those reluctant students, it’s worth a try.

Loving God, be with those who struggle today and give the rest of us the wisdom and generosity to encourage them along their way, just as you would.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love… Just Love!

The ordinances of the Lord are true, all of them just.
They are more precious than gold…

Psalm 19:10

As I walked the other day, I passed our local school at dismissal. Though I usually avoid this timing, I enjoyed the circus of it all just the same. The kids were well-behaved as they lined up for their buses and I fully appreciated the effort expended by them and their teachers to accomplish this. I wouldn’t trade my teaching career for anything. Still, there were days when I would’ve preferred to be any place other than in my classroom. This usually had little to do with the children. More often than not, it resulted from fatigue, frustration with “the powers that be” or the problems of people I care about. The good news is that my students managed to dispel my frustration in amazing ways.

When the children sensed an uncharacteristic edge in my voice, they were especially quiet and extremely helpful toward me and one another. In an effort not to darken my mood further, a few of them gave “the eye” to their less perceptive classmates who quickly responded. I always noted -and appreciated- this response to my crankiness and I answered it with a quick return to normalcy.

I worked very hard to make my classroom a productive and compassionate place. I realized that I succeeded at some level when the children managed my “off days” so mercifully. It seems to me that God has worked to make this world of ours a productive and compassionate place as well. The best way to let our Loving Creator know that we appreciate this effort is to respond in kind to one another.

Patient God, thank you for our capacity to love. Remind us often that your most pressing request is that we love each other.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Little Acts… Great Love…

Every day we are called to do small things with great love.
Mother Teresa

Sometimes, the smallest kindness changes the world.

It was the first day of school. Two eight-year-olds made their way to the start of the new year. The problem was that Conner, who was anxious to begin the new year just an hour earlier, had lost his nerve and he began to cry. Conner’s autism amplified his fear. Little Christian noticed his schoolmate’s misery. Without delay, he took Conner by the hand. Together, these two new friends made their way into what now would become an amazing first day of school for them both.

Christian’s mom had her phone along when she took her son to school that morning. She likely hoped to capture a photo of him on his first day of second grade. She never suspected that she’d also capture her son offering a measure of kindness powerful enough to change another child’s world. Christian’s small gesture changed my world as well!

Every day, we witness countless acts of love, tiny heroic moments which change lives. Every minute we’re given holds an opportunity to make or to break one another’s spirits and our own. Whenever we choose love over anger, love over impatience, love in spite of our weariness and love in the midst of heartbreak, we do our greatest work. Whenever we take advantage of the tiniest opportunity to do good, we change this world for the better.

Loving God, thank you for making use of everything we do, especially our small, seemingly unimportant efforts. Even these tiny acts make this world a better place.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Special in God’s Eyes

This Labor Day weekend, my thoughts turn to all of the children and teachers who recently embraced the new school year. While I always welcomed summer vacation when my husband-the-principal and I-the-teacher regrouped as a family with our own kids, every August, I looked forward to the new school year as well. Of course, I also looked forward to Labor Day which granted all concerned a four-day school week! The other day, Mike shared a Facebook post with me from one of our former students. As I considered the amazing dad and husband he’s become, I offered a prayer for him and all of the great kids I’d met along the way. It was then that one of my own first day of school adventures came to mind. A favorite student wasn’t at all looking forward to the new school year or Labor Day…

On the first day each year, teachers flank school grounds long before the children arrive. Some of the children might have been unfamiliar with the environment while others might have needed a reminder that order would prevail. So it was that my fellow teachers and I stood ready to greet the new year’s students. Eventually, most of the children made their way into the building like an army of ants charging a picnic. Some approached with confidence. They were returning students who’d done well the prior year. They knew where to line up and what to expect. Their backpacks bulged with supplies in anticipation of whatever their new teachers might ask of them. Others arrived hand-in-hand with an adult companion. These grown-up escorts offered a bit of reassurance in an effort to prevent tears which would otherwise have flowed freely. For some who reluctantly inched toward school, tears flowed regardless of the company. The onset of the new year frightened them beyond their abilities to cope. These poor children always expected the worst.

The children I worried about most that first morning of the school year were those who lingered on the periphery of things. They feared crossing the threshold into the school and into the new year and they hid wherever they could. The year before, these children had attended school every day and worked hard at their assignments. They did their homework, but too often found it to be too hard. Without help, they too often failed the most important subjects. I vividly recalled their avoidance behaviors. One stood behind a tree. Another squatted low, hiding next to a dumpster. Still another perched himself high above the playground at the top of the slide. Gym-shoe clad feet betrayed the girl lurking behind a teacher’s van. The last one I eyed had started to walk home. He’d refused to endure failure once again.

Because I was a reading teacher, I didn’t have a class of my own to usher into the building. I was charged with gathering these elusive procrastinators. That year, after retrieving my young friends from their various hiding places, I bolted after the young man who was headed home. Jonah was a sixth grader who felt he’d had a rough year last time around. I knew him because Jonah had been one of my reading students. Jonah had made excellent progress in reading. His pre-test and post-test scores heralded the two-plus years’ growth he’d achieved. Jonah had moved from second to fourth grade reading level. Unfortunately, Jonah still performed two years below his new grade level. I shared the frustration which must have eaten away at him. His peers who were reading at grade level skated by with only six or eight months’ growth and that was enough for them. I understood why Jonah questioned his still being behind when his growth was greater than that of most of the other students.

With all of this in mind, I followed Jonah down the walk. Luckily, Jonah’s good nature impelled him to stop. Had he noticed that my heels made it impossible for me to chase him? His eyes told me that he almost welcomed my company. “Jonah,” I asked, “Where are you going? What will I do if you’re not in school today?” Jonah sniffed and tears followed. “I can’t do that stuff. I hate school. I’m stupid and I ain’t going in there!” Trying to keep my own tears in check, I reminded Jonah, “You learned two years’ worth of reading last year. If you do that again, you’ll be right where you’re supposed to be.” Jonah wiped his eyes and smiled just a bit. “That’s why I got that certificate, huh? My mom put it on her bedroom mirror.” I quickly asked, “She liked it?” Jonah smiled as I walked him to the door. “We both like it,” Jonah admitted. With that, Jonah skipped to his classroom, ready to try once again. With that, I prayed once again: “Thank you, Lord, for helping me to convince Jonah of just how special he is.” Jonah had given meaning to that day and to every day that I was privileged to work with him.

Today, at the close of Luke’s gospel (14:1, 7-14), Jesus says, “…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” I admit that Jesus’ promise is above and beyond anything I can hope for today because Jonah repaid me a thousand-fold for simply doing my job that year. So it is that I celebrate Labor Day 2019 with a prayer for you and me…

Loving God, help us never to overlook the treasure to be found in those whom this world considers to be castaways. Like Jesus, help us to see that it is through our association with these favored ones that we witness your greatest work and that we best emulate your loving and welcoming heart.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Them All…

Blest are you who are weeping;
you shall laugh.

From Luke 4:21

A recent newscast referenced Polk Street, the West Side, Chicago. I grew up in a two-flat on Polk Street. When I closed my eyes to retrieve a mental picture of my childhood home, my friend Glenda came to mind. Though I’ve written about Glenda before, I can’t resist doing so once again…

Glenda and I lived on the same block and we were classmates from first through sixth grade. During sixth grade, Glenda blossomed into a young woman quite noticeably and I managed to annoy our teacher on a daily basis regardless of my genuine effort to do just the opposite.

On the day that comes to mind, Sister announced that we would read the essays we’d just written before the entire class. Shyness caused Glenda and me to tremble in unison. When I was called, I managed to read my work without a fumble. When Sister called Glenda, I closed my eyes and prayed that she would do the same. A giggle interrupted my prayer. A second giggle prompted me to open my eyes. By the time I realized what had happened, everyone was laughing except for me. Glenda’s blouse had unbuttoned and I was mortified for her. Fortunately, Sister quickly took control and sent Glenda and me into the hallway. While I explained what had happened to my friend, Sister mercilessly reprimanded the rest of the class. Poor Glenda sobbed until I convinced her that we were the lucky ones because the rest of the class was in serious trouble. Though our classmates ostracized us for a while because we “got them into trouble”, Glenda’s and my friendship was sealed forever.

Dear God, I could never have laughed at Glenda. I loved her too much! Help me to be as loving toward everyone I meet today.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

2019? Only God Knows…

No one has ever seen God…
From John 1:18

It is the teacher in me who taught me to make the most of our winter breaks. When I taught second and third graders, their unrest before Christmas vacation betrayed their anticipation regarding what Santa might place under their trees on Christmas Day. I engaged in some extremely creative teaching to keep my students’ attention until I finally dismissed them for their two-week hiatus. Because my husband was a school principal, his office needed a revolving door during those final days as a few students needed more than their teachers’ creativity to contain them. When we had children of our own, we did our best to send them off to school with plenty of “encouragement” to do their best until the final bell rang and vacation began.

This time away from school was truly a gift to all concerned. Though having the kids at home while trying to prepare for Christmas was a challenge, their involvement added to all of our appreciation of the season. When Christmas Day arrived, we had much to celebrate together.

This New Year’s Eve, another variety of anticipation and a bit of uncertainty sets in. Like the children who wondered what gifts Christmas would bring, I wonder what the New Year has in store. The truth is that God only knows. So it is that I settle in to enjoy this evening with those I have been given to love. I will trust that, whatever 2019 brings, God will be with us through it all.

Loving God, thank you for your loving care today, throughout the coming year and always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved